Vernon Louis Parrington (1871–1929)


For many contemporary historians, Vernon Louis Parrington, was the greatest literary historian in America. A two-time graduate from Harvard University, 1893 and in 1897 respectively. Upon graduating from Harvard, he was hired as an instructor of English and Modern Languages at the University of Oklahoma. Parrington is known for his Pultitzer winning magisterial work for history (1928), Main Currents in American Thought. In the three volume work, Parrington brought to the attention of the American people important political figures from Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, and public concerns of the American political life; that is, ” Of American letters from colonial times, postulating a sharp divide between the elitist Hamiltonian current and its populist Jeffersonian opponents, and making clear Parrington’s own identification with the latter.” For example, he forcefully defended the doctrine of state sovereignty and successfully (?)disassociated the movement from the the cause of slavery in America. For, he contended that both movements (the state sovereignty and slavery in America) had not supported and advanced American democracy, instead proven “disastrous to American democracy.” (source)

“Ideas are not godlings that spring perfect-winged from the head of Jove; they are not flowers that bloom in a walled garden; they are weapons hammered out on the anvil of human needs.”
— Vernon Louis Parrington

For further reading-
Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Historians (1968)
Robert Allen Skotheim, American Intellectual Histories and Historians (1966)
Alfred Kazin, On Native Ground (1942)
Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950)

Vernon Louis Parrington’s Main Currents in American Thought

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